All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in August 2009.
S. Maria Liberatrice (Book 3) (Map B3) (Day 1) and (Day 5) (View C9) (Rione Campitelli)
S. Maria Liberatrice was built at the beginning of the XVIIth at the foot of the Palatine and in the middle of the Forum. It replaced a medieval church which in turn incorporated parts of S. Maria Antiqua, a very old church. The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Tempio di Giove Statore (now known as Tempio di Castore e Polluce); 2) Walls of Curia Ostilia and Basilica Porzia; 3) S. Teodoro; 4) Orti Farnesiani. 1) and 4) are shown in other pages. The small map shows also 5) S. Maria Liberatrice.
S. Maria Liberatrice was pulled down in 1900 to excavate the area; the remaining parts of S. Maria Antiqua were preserved and protected by a modern building. The excavations unearthed the podium of Tempio di Castore e Polluce. The walls that according to Vasi were part of Curia Ostilia were later on thought to be part of the Athenaeum, a library built by Emperor Hadrian and are now believed to be an entrance to the Imperial Palaces on the Palatine.
The fountain shown in the plate was designed in 1593 by Giacomo Della Porta who made use of a large basin found near Arco di Settimio Severo. In 1816 the basin was placed by Pope Pius VII below the obelisk of Piazza del Quirinale, while the upper part of the fountain ended up in Giardino degli Aranci near Santa Sabina, after having been used for some time for Acqua Lancisiana.
The excavations led also to the identification of Fonte di Giuturna, a basin which contained the water of a holy spring (Giuturna was a nymph) and of Oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri, a VIIth century oratory which was located in a previous Roman building.
The church was built in the second half of the VIth century when Rome (after the Greek-Gothic War) became part of the Byzantine Empire; it was the first to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary and its location indicates it was used by the Greek officers who had their residence in the former imperial palaces.
In the IXth century it was damaged by the consequences of an earthquake which caused the partial collapse of the walls supporting the terraces of the Palatine. For this reason Pope Leo IV (847-55) assigned its name and prerogatives to S. Maria Nuova (S. Francesca Romana).
Since the most ancient time the Romans believed that the fortunes of their city were determined by a sacred fire always kept burning. This task was entrusted to the Vestals, priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the fireplace. This cult derived from the need of a small community to have a reliable source of fire; for this reason the fire was kept burning in a hut to protect it from rain and winds.
Tempio di Vesta vaguely resembled a hut: it was circular and it had a conical roof with a hole to let the smoke out. It was rebuilt several times, the last time in 191 by Giulia Domna, wife of Emperor Septimius Severus. The Vestals were chosen when they were aged about eight; they lived for thirty years in a house near the temple; for ten years they learned their duties, for ten years they attended the fire and for the last ten years they taught the novices. After having completed their period of duty they were free to leave the house, but in general they preferred to remain. They were bound by a vow of chastity; the penalty for breaking it was to be buried alive in a field outside Porta Salaria, known as Campus Sceleratus.
The Vestals were also in charge of keeping the Palladium, an image of Athena Pallas, which Aeneas brought with him from Troy: notwithstanding the unlucky end of Troy, the Romans believed the safety of their city depended on this image. It was kept in the adytum, the innermost part of the temple, and no one was allowed to see it apart from the Vestals and the Pontifex Maximus.
A new church by the same name was erected in Testaccio in the main square
of a modern quarter built in the early XXth century to accommodate the growing working class of Rome. The image on the altar of old Santa Maria Liberatrice
was moved to the new church and the fašade was embellished with a mosaic reproducing frescoes of S. Maria Antiqua. An inscription explains the name of the church: Sancta Maria libera nos a poenis inferni (free us from
S. Teodoro is still visible from the Forum. The building was originally one of the granaries (Horrea Agrippiana) built by Marco Vipsanio Agrippa, son-in-law of Emperor Augustus. The circular walls are to a great extent the result of a XVth century restoration; the dome belongs to that period.
The low lying church was built in the VIth century and the much restored mosaic of the apse is of the same period. The church was restored by Pope Nicholas V, whose coats of arms are still visible on the walls at the entrance. Pope Clement XI restored the church in 1702 and Carlo Fontana designed the fine circular courtyard leading to the church. The heraldic symbols of this pope can be seen in the railing on the street level (a few years ago, when the church was given to the Orthodox Church, the star was replaced by a Greek cross).
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 3: Chiesa di S. Giorgio in Velabro